DIXON – No one should bank on it, but the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals might finally dig its teeth into the biggest issue related to wind energy regulations.
That would be the required distance between wind turbines and homes.
On Dec. 15, the panel spent the last 10 minutes of its 2-hour meeting looking at the setback issue. It had planned to resume the debate at its meeting last week.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the board was sidetracked by another dicey issue related to wind turbines – noise.
Zoning Board member Mike Pratt said Monday that he hoped the panel could quickly wrap up that issue at its meeting Thursday.
“That’s my intent,” he said. “Whether we can pull that off is another thing.”
Lee County’s current setback is 1,400 feet – a little more than a quarter mile – the same as in Whiteside County. But some people want a much greater distance.
At the Dec. 15 meeting, the board’s chairman, Ron Conderman, said he was fine with 1,400 feet. But another member, Tom Fassler, suggested a mile.
At board meetings, Pratt sits in the middle. Conderman and Fassler are at the opposite far ends of the table, both often taking their respective pro- and anti-wind energy positions.
Sitting next to Pratt are Craig Buhrow and Gene Bothe, both of whom are often quiet during meetings. (In fact, Bothe, until last week, was mum during the discussions over the last 6 months.)
Pratt might be the pivotal vote during the setback discussion. In an interview Monday, he said he didn’t want to say beforehand what distance he wanted.
“I’m trying to stay impartial,” he said. “I’m trying not to be swayed by one side or another. I’m trying to make it fair for both sides and do the best for the whole county. You can’t choose sides.”
On the noise issue, Pratt acknowledged last week that he got some help with his proposal on noise rules from a representative of the Ogle County Farm Bureau. Seen as a pro-wind organization, the group opposed a proposed half-mile setback in Ogle County.
Pratt said he has been getting input from both sides when he presents proposals.
At last week’s meeting, he defended the board’s work, saying it had already approved a number of items in the proposed wind energy ordinance that would favor residents, including a home seller protection program.
His proposal on noise regulations guided the discussion at the meeting.
It would require wind energy companies to conduct sound studies before and after turbines are built ≠ all paid by those firms.
No such assessments are required under the current ordinance.
The proposal also would include a complaint procedure, available for anyone living within a mile of turbines.
After a complaint is made, an investigation would be conducted. If the property owner’s complaint was determined to be reasonable, the company would pay for the cost of the study.
If it was found to be unreasonable, the property owner would pay. Such studies are estimated to cost thousands of dollars.
Under the proposal, both the company and property owner would put money in an escrow account before the investigation.
Some in the audience disagreed with that idea, saying it would deter people from filing complaints. Pratt countered that he wanted to prevent frivolous ones.
Pratt’s proposal called for the 1-mile distance to be measured from the foundations of homes, but others suggested that it would be better from the boundaries of properties. That would make the area for potential complaints larger.
Even the representative of a wind energy company, Mainstream Renewable Power, agreed that a property’s boundaries was a better measure. After all, homeowners may not agree to let companies on their properties to conduct sound studies, the representative said.
Pratt conceded the point.
On Monday, Pratt said he hoped to get a motion on noise rules at this week’s meeting and start the debate over setbacks.
“Someone’s going to have to make a motion,” he said. “We never got through the procedure of making a motion last time.”
The County Board has the final say on the wind energy ordinance.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., Dixon.
The board is expected to discuss wind turbines’ noise and the distance between turbines and homes.
For more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call the zoning office at 815-288-3643.
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